McLellan on speed, defense, training camp, Kovalchuk, Toffoli, playing rookies

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Reporter: You mentioned Toffoli at your initial press conference, a little bit of a relationship there, but what’s the going-in thought process? Is it to put him in the best position possible to succeed, i.e. playing with Kopitar, or to put him in a position where he’s going to have to earn something?

Todd McLellan: I think Tyler’s got to put himself in that position, not me. He’s going to have to come in and have a real good training camp, he’s going to have to lead the team in practice. He was quite vocal about practices and the commitment level at them, so I’m going to look at him to lead and to push the team and push himself as an individual. He’ll sort out where he belongs in the lineup as we progress. My vision, or my memory of Tyler Toffoli, is 2015 at the World Championships. He was a significant contributor to that team and a success there and I know him that way, that’s how I want to know him. I’ve told him that already over the summer and I’ll meet with him again before training camp starts, but I think he’s a very important piece throughout training camp and throughout the season.

Reporter: How much faster do you want this team to play, if that’s your preference?

Todd McLellan: I think every coach in the league right now is stressing speed, skill, some tenacity with that speed, and we’ll be no different. We’ll look at adjusting some of the systematic things that we do to try and incorporate a little more tenacity on the forecheck, a little more speed. It will take a while for the players to adapt or to adjust, but we hope that we can evolve into a quicker team. Speed is often viewed as just how fast you can skate. For me, it’s puck movement – how fast can the puck move, get from A to B, anticipation skills, are you able to read and react, can you predict where the play is going? I think that’s where coaches come into play and systems come into play and we’ll begin to incorporate them, basically from day one on and continue to pound away and try to make the team a little bit faster.

Reporter: Before you see these guys on the ice, how much have you dug into their backgrounds, gone through video, what’s that process like?

Todd McLellan: A fair amount. Each of the coaches on the coaching staff have had some assignments throughout the summer. We had a chance to review once already, that being at the development camp. We’ll meet again over the next few days and just get after it, but the reality of training camp, is that’s where we’ll truly develop our own opinion. We’ll get to know them individually, we’ll get to know their moods, their body language. I’m not sure what a good day looks like yet for Anze Kopitar at practice – I haven’t been around him. So, we’ll get to establish some perimeters and some ideas of what players should look like so that we can begin to evaluate them from there.

Reporter: Rob said last year’s camp wasn’t good. What would a good camp look like to you?

Todd McLellan: A good camp will have some pace, there will have some passion in it, it won’t just be going through the motions. It will be players understanding the type of language that we’re using, there will be progression in the drills and players grasping the concepts. There will be mistakes made because those are teachable moments. I think we’re already off to a pretty good start, the players have been back earlier than they’ve been in the past. They’ve been all skating, at least since I’ve been around, together, there aren’t many players who are taking their option at this time in the season and I think we’re off to a good start there. It would be a great question to ask me six or seven days in, have we accomplished some of the things we wanted in that short period of time and I’d be able to answer it better.

Reporter: Rob mentioned a lot of young players in this organization. … What’s your approach to rookies, knowing that you come out of the Detroit organization – that “overcook,” or stay one year longer in Grand Rapids – so what’s your approach to potentially having the youngest team you’ve ever coached?

Todd McLellan: I think that youth is exciting, I think that the young players in today’s game have way more courage to attempt things to not be satisfied with the innate pecking order from old to young. They’re willing to put their game out there a little bit more, but they also have to earn their stripes and they have to grow up quickly, they have to become professionals. We use that term often but they’ve got to train properly, they’ve got to show their teammates that they’re committed to the game and I think we have some of those players in this organization. The youth have to provide that energy, that excitement and the veterans have to nurture the youth so they can bring them along. We all have to reflect back on what it’s like to go to our first training camp, to play our first game, to score our first goal, to get our first win and sometimes that can be very refreshing in my mind for some of the older players as well.

Reporter: Are you starting to pick up any differences or similarities in lifestyle between Southern California versus Northern California?

Todd McLellan: Yeah, there are some significant differences. When we lived in the North Bay, the San Jose, San Francisco area, in San Jose, you’re not near the ocean, you’re a mountain range away. The weather’s different, the lifestyle’s a little bit different. The majority of our people live in the South Bay here, the “beachiness”, the lifestyle is significantly different from North to South, but California is still a great place, the people are unreal. The passion of the three fan bases in California is significant, it has had a great impact on the league and will continue to.

Reporter: Because there are so many of the players that live so close to each other in the South Bay, how unique is that throughout hockey? It always seemed, in juniors, like you always wanted the younger players live close together?

Todd McLellan: I think that’s happening more, certainly in the bigger cities. The players will migrate to the area where the practice facilities are. We’re very lucky to have a great one here. They’ll live close to those, they’ll find good schools, they’ll find great neighborhoods to live in. Hockey’s not just about life at the rink. You’ve got families at home, you’ve got children that need to go to school. In my short time here in the South Bay, the families are very fortunate to have the opportunities that they have here.

Reporter: Rob mentioned that Forbort is hurt right now, is it time for Drew to find a new defensive partner?

Todd McLellan: Well, we’ll sort that out as training camp goes on. Obviously, with Derek likely not being ready to go at training camp, he’ll have a new one right off the bat. New partner, possibly, I can’t answer that question until we see this group play together. We’ll have some new players back there, Joakim Ryan coming from San Jose may be a candidate as we go forward, but we’ll get to know them a little bit. We have a month to figure things out before we head to Edmonton for Game 1.

Reporter: What about the whole, righty-lefty, veteran with a young guy – what’s your general philosophy?

Todd McLellan: Well, righty-lefty I think is somewhat important, but you’re not always dealt the cards that you like. Sometimes, you’re over rightied or over leftied. In our case, we’d like to set righties and lefties up as much as we possibly can. There’s the old theory of a puck mover and a defensive stay-at-home guy, does that fly anymore? We’ll see with what our group is. We’ve got to figure out the ingredients we have before we really start to predict who will play with who.

Reporter: Rob said you had the chance to talk with Ilya a little bit more recently?

Todd McLellan: I have had some calls with Kovy, they were great calls. What can I tell you about them? First of all, Kovy is a very proud player. He’s proud of what he’s done in the past and he’s looking forward to playing hard for the team and playing hard for the Kings. I left the conversation kind of open-ended and we’re going to meet and sit down and really create a relationship that way. I think that’s the approach that’s really important between him and I, as coach-player, and then we’ll incorporate him into the team environment, but we expect him to have a very successful year.

Reporter: Last year, there was talk about he needs a very specific type of center, was that part of the conversation at all?

Todd McLellan: Nope, that was not one of the sticking points of the conversation at all. It was just about a fresh start, a new coach, a new approach, a new energy. Me believing in him, him believing in the organization and when I hung the phone up, I hope he felt the same way I did, it was a great conversation. I truly look forward to taking him out for lunch and really digging in at that point, we’ll get a lot more done that way than we will on the phone.

Reporter: When did that conversation happen?

Todd McLellan: I’m trying to think back, I’ve had so many phone calls. Probably post draft I would think it was, somewhere in that range.

Reporter: Have you had experience, where you’ve inherited an established guy like that, who’s coming off kind of a rough year, trying to get him back on track?

Todd McLellan: One thing that I know is that not everybody’s going to have a career year. There’s going to be players that really excel, I look at Kyle Clifford. If we can keep Kyle’s game where it is right now, we’ve got a hell of a player. He just had a career year in a year that maybe it didn’t go that well for a lot of individuals. Every team has guys that have taken a step back, every team has guys that have had career years. You’d love to maintain the elite, keep them going, you’re searching for answers for the other guys. A new coaching staff, a new way of playing, perhaps we can turn that around for some others, but we don’t want to lose the ones that have had success over the last 82 games.

Juan Ocampo/NHLI

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